- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas’ attorney general told a state judge on Friday he plans to appeal a decision that struck down a new voter ID law, while a civil liberties group said it will move forward with a separate challenge to the requirement.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office filed a notice of appeal over Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox’s ruling a day earlier that voided a new law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. McDaniel is appealing the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Fox had issued the ruling in a case that focused on how absentee ballots are handled under the new law.

A spokesman for McDaniel’s office and the chairman of the state Republican Party both said they planned to ask the court to stay Fox’s ruling. The GOP had been given permission to help defend the state in the absentee ballot case, and has filed a separate notice of appeal. The state’s primary is May 20, and early voting for that election begins May 5.

“Certainly this order leads to confusion as early voting does start,” state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb said. “That’s the reason why we think it would be appropriate for a stay, because if the Supreme Court does overturn - and we expect the Supreme Court to overturn- this order, then what about the effectiveness of the act in this particular election?”

The Republican-led Legislature approved the law last year, overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate. Backers of the measure said it was aimed at reducing voter fraud, while opponents said it would disenfranchise voters.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, meanwhile, said it would move forward with a separate lawsuit challenging the voter ID law’s constitutionality. Fox is also the judge in that case and is scheduled to hold a hearing in that case May 2.

Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas’ legal director, said that lawsuit is still necessary to protect the rights of voters who would be affected by the new requirement. The ACLU and the Arkansas Public Law Center sued the state on behalf of four Pulaski County voters.

“With the state fighting and appealing that, there’s no certainty at all our clients will be able to vote,” Dickson said. “We’re going to do what we can to maximize the chances their right to vote will be respected.”

The ACLU on Friday asked Fox to quash subpoenas from Secretary of State Mark Martin about whether any of the four voters challenging the law receive government benefits, such as Medicaid or food stamps.

In a separate filing, Martin’s attorney asked Fox on Friday to recuse himself from hearing the ACLU case, noting that Martin was a defendant in two cases questioning the eligibility of Fox and his former challenger over past judicial suspensions.

Fox issued the ruling in a case that had focused on absentee ballots. The Pulaski County Election Commission sued the state Board of Election Commissioners for adopting a rule that gives absentee voters additional time to show proof of ID. The rule allows voters who did not submit required identification with their absentee ballot to turn in the documents for their vote to be counted by noon Monday following an election. It mirrors an identical “cure period” the law gives to voters who fail to show identification at the polls.

McDaniel, a Democrat, issued a legal opinion in February in which he said absentee voters could not be given additional time to cast ballots, because that wasn’t specified in the law. His opinion conflicted with advice that the Republican secretary of state’s office had given to local election officials.

Thirty-one states have laws in effect requiring voters to show some form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven states have strict photo ID requirements similar to Arkansas. Voter ID laws have been put on hold in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because of court challenges.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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